An intergenerational androgenic mechanism of female intrasexual competition in the cooperatively breeding meerkat

Christine M. Drea, Charli S. Davies, Lydia K. Greene, Jessica Mitchell, Dimitri V. Blondel, Caroline L. Shearer, Joseph T. Feldblum, Kristin A. Dimac-Stohl, Kendra N. Smyth-Kabay, Tim H. Clutton-Brock

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Female intrasexual competition can be intense in cooperatively breeding species, with some dominant breeders (matriarchs) limiting reproduction in subordinates via aggression, eviction or infanticide. In males, such tendencies bidirectionally link to testosterone, but in females, there has been little systematic investigation of androgen-mediated behaviour within and across generations. In 22 clans of wild meerkats (Suricata suricatta), we show that matriarchs 1) express peak androgen concentrations during late gestation, 2) when displaying peak feeding competition, dominance behaviour, and evictions, and 3) relative to subordinates, produce offspring that are more aggressive in early development. Late-gestation antiandrogen treatment of matriarchs 4) specifically reduces dominance behaviour, is associated with infrequent evictions, decreases social centrality within the clan, 5) increases aggression in cohabiting subordinate dams, and 6) reduces offspring aggression. These effects implicate androgen-mediated aggression in the operation of female sexual selection, and intergenerational transmission of masculinised phenotypes in the evolution of meerkat cooperative breeding.
Original languageEnglish
Article number7332
JournalNature Communications
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 17 Dec 2021

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